“Eel matelote was on the menu of all restaurants and in all cooking manuals not so long ago,” recalls Julien Dumas, chef of the Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant at the Saint James hotel, which is part of the twenty-one members of the International Committee of Relais & Châteaux Tables. In partnership with the NGO Ethic Ocean, the committee voted last November to immediately remove this endangered fish from its menus. Because if eel had been discreet, it has come back in force in recent years: “Japanese culture has landed in French cuisine, and the Japanese are crazy about eel. This influence relaunched the trend,” he continues.
Perhaps also this slender fish is of interest to bistronomy, because it is a local product: France is the first country to fish for very young European eels (or glass eels), and the second to fish for eels. juveniles and pre-adults. “However, scientists have been warning for twenty years,” recalls Élisabeth Vallet, director of Ethic Ocean, which has published a guide to purchasing recommendations for seafood products for professionals since 2008. The same year, European eel was classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “In forty years, the population of eels in our rivers has fallen by 90 to 99%,” she warns.
Luxury products are chosen for their quality and freshness, not for their rarity or cost.
While European scientists recommend completely suspending their fishing, France has just increased the glass eel fishing quotas by 12% for the year 2024.” A heresy when we know that the previous quotas were not reached as the resource is rare. But glass eel is worth gold: “It sold for 3 euros per kilo in 1970 compared to 350 euros currently,” explains Élisabeth Vallet. According to her, public authorities should propose support measures for fishermen while the species recovers and act on the causes of the eel’s decline: dams, pollution of waterways, destruction of its habitat. “It’s impossible to count on repopulation efforts, which are currently not effective,” she regrets. Nor on breeding: the reproduction of the species in captivity is not controlled. »
In the absence of government measures, Ethic Ocean campaigns with chefs. Julien Dumas stopped serving eel ten years ago. “It’s one of my favorite fish,” he confides. But luxury products are those that we choose for their quality and freshness, not for their rarity or their cost. Eel is the signature dish of some chefs, I understand that it is complicated for them. »
A FASCINATING LIFE CYCLE
The European eel breeds in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. Carried by the Gulf Stream, its larvae become glass eels, which arrive on the European coast, mainly in France. They go up freshwater streams and stay there for three to eight years; They then have a yellowish color which gives them the name of yellow eels. When their sexual development begins, they turn silver, but are still prepubescent. They must then go down the rivers, traveling 6,000 kilometers towards the Sargasso Sea where, having become adults, they will finally reproduce for the first and last time. If migration is prevented by dams, the silver eel never reaches sexual maturity.